I was going through the ol’ blog-archives, and found an old trip to Icehouse Canyon. Since I’ve already written-up a few other trails that go through the canyon, I won’t give this the full treatment. This was written on my first time in the Canyon. It is now one of my all-time favorite hikes — an incredibly peaceful streambed canyon amid high-altitude mountains and forests. This is about as far from urban Los Angeles as you can feel without driving for six hours.

Originally hiked October 15, 2006.

On Sunday, Will and I tried to make another run at East Fork early in the morning, packing the car full with his dog Dingo, and friends Nick and Glen. But as we drove eastbound on the wonderful Southern California Interstate System, we noticed the gray sky getting ominously darker. The weather reports said it’d be clear today … Then it started raining.

In an effort to a). not cancel our weekly hiking expedition and b). find a hike that wouldn’t douse us in sheets of rain under a gray sky, we decided to make a break for some higher elevations to try to get out of the cloud cover. Having not been back since a leg-busting ascent of Mount San Antonio, I suggested the Mount Baldy area. I figured if anything near us was going to be high enough to be above the clouds, it’d be there.

And, after a few minutes getting lost in some of the foothill communities, we found the winding road up San Antonio Canyon. The road itself was thick with clouds, but right before we hit the trailhead to Icehouse Canyon, we broke through. And the skies above us unfolded a brilliant blue.

We got out of the car and the weather. was. perfect. Very cool – almost too cool. We could see our breath, but I was fine in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. And then I realized it – this was the Platonic Form of Fall Weather. Blue skies, high sun, cool temperature, light breeze. If I had a thermos of hot cider with me, I could have closed my eyes and pretended I was back home in New England.

We suited up and walked toward the canyon trailhead. We saw a well-worn footpath to our left, meticulously cut into the ground. To our right, we saw this:

Guess which path we took.

Yup. We were goin’ boulder-hoppin’.

Usually, I’m all for that, and on this day it was no exception. Although most of the time I’ve climbed on rocks like this, they’ve been pretty dry – either in parched streambeds or washes or elevated enough from the river to not get soaked. These were wet, though, and crossings were slow, slippery, and numerous. Yes, I slid down my fair share of rock sides, and yes, I did do a healthy amount of riverbank hiking when the boulders got to be too slick. But the soothing white noise of the river kept luring me back. Also, the chance to see things like this up close:

Further down the river, and through some intense patches of stinging nettle (which are now on the top of my list of least favorite plants, by the way), we passed some small, bright patches of fallen orange leaves. They didn’t quite convey the breathtaking beauty of New England, but what with the weather, sunshine, and water, did the trick pretty well. And they were completely unexpected, which made them even nicer.

We were blessed with a treat from the morning rain, because the fresh moisture not only cleared the skies and activated the full range of fragrant cedars in the mountains, but it also let us catch glimpses of rare sights, like water evaporating off a damp, fallen log in the cool sun …

… combined, of course, with the sublime delight that can only come from hiking with an amazing dog.

I can barely put into words how much I loved this hike. Even though we didn’t make it fully to Icehouse Saddle, or to any of the surrounding peaks, this was one of those rare hikes that I can feel a real sense of accomplishment just by wandering aimlessly around a beautiful area. The water was the clearest and cleanest I’ve seen anywhere in southern California so far.

To think that landscapes that look and feel like this are only an hour away from downtown Los Angeles is still mind-blowing to me. And if a beautiful, easy hike still won’t sell you on this, maybe you’re more interested in some ladybugs? Fine. This trail has those, too.

On our way back down, we encountered the cloud-cover again. Blowing through the pines and redwoods on the mountains surrounding us, the wisps of gray made for quite a show. And a great way to end the hike.

The only way we could have made this better was by stopping at the Mt. Baldy Lodge for lunch, so we did. As we sat by a roaring fire, we ate a fine meal of nachos, beer, apple pie and ice cream. Quite possibly the Most Excellent Meal Ever Served.

More pics from this fall trip on Flickr.

More in-depth write-ups of the Icehouse Canyon Trail are at Timber Mountain and Cucamonga Peak.

Rancho Cucamonga Hotels

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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15 Comments

  • Seth says:

    Just hiked it, so beautiful! Thanks again Modern Hiker – what an amazing resource!

  • titansoldier2007 says:

    I went up it in Feb right after the snow storms after work. Only made it to the red cabin before the swtich backs, too much snow, in slacks, and a dress shirt, no ice cramps :D spontaneopus trip

  • Drew says:

    Would this be in the fire recovery zone or not useable right now?

  • Dick Troop says:

    My wife and I did the hike to the top of Timber Mountain two weeks ago. We went on Monday from Malibu. While there were few people on the trail (and virtually none above the Wilderness sign), we did have to contend with LA’s pretty gnarly weekday traffic.

    Hiking conditions were superb, and the hike everything you said it would be. No water from about 1.6 miles to the saddle. Some biting insects first mile.

    A great conditioning hike. Cindy liked it much better than Baden Powell. Thanks!!

    d

  • mary says:

    the pictures are great !!!! I absolutely love them .. im definitely going on this hike soon!!!!!

  • Ken says:

    Nice photos and detail. I hiked this trail when there was a good amount of snow and it was spectacular! Thanks for the post.

  • Rob V. says:

    well, you’re batting 1000, modernhiker! Incredible hike, I just finished it today. I was thinking about trying to bag one of the peaks, but I was wearing an old pair of running shoes and there was still sheets of ice covering parts of the upper trails, so I called it a day.

    I stuck to the trail, and no real stops until I hit the saddle. I found shelter from the wind a little ways up the trail toward Cucamonga peak, and stopped for lunch for about a half hour, above the cloud line, then made a quick trip down. All said and done, it took a hair under four hours total.

    WOW, I loved it. Great site and great info! Keep up the good work!

  • I’ve learned to come to MH to research before heading out on the trail with my hiking group. In the mood for a fall hike, this post laid the way for a great day spent on the trail in a calm, cool, lady bug filled forest. I highly recommend. Steep in a lot of areas, this place is beautiful. The town of Mt. Baldy is really adorable as well. There is a ski lift in service year round (18/adult) that takes you out and back over the canyons and the mountains, to trailheads, or even to a place to eat at the top of the hill!

    A short drive from LA, this area is totally worth it.

  • Robert Lamb says:

    I was up here four weeks ago. Before driving out early on a Sunday morning, I read on the FS web site that a free wilderness permit was required. When I checked in, I was told that I’d have trouble making it to Icehouse Saddle with out snowshoes and crampons. I could hardly believe it, as there was no snow in Mt. Baldy Village. Sure enough, progressively more ice and snow appeared as I gained altitude. To my disappointment, I had to turn back about a quarter mile from the Saddle. I got to a point where the snow was simply covering sheets of ice, not rock, and with the steep slope, the prudent thing to do was to quit while I was ahead.

    On my way back, I decided to backtrack and take an alternate route higher up from the canyon on a warmer slope. I managed to make it more than half way to the saddle again, but with time slipping away and a certainty that I’d hit snow and ice again, I turned back. Despite the non-ascent and a scrape on my hand from a spill on some black ice, this was a great hike. I came away from this one with a newfound respect for seemingly over-cautious warnings in Forest Service offices…

  • Alex Hernandez says:

    Hey you guys had a terrific hike that day! reminds me once I went with my wife in to soldier canyon up by crystal lake and we spotted a red log about 100yds away upstream, as we got closer we realized the log (about 10 ft) was completely covered with ladybugs! it was a spectacular scene.
    Keep up the hikes, specially up the east fork!

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